The 18th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels claimed the ACC men’s lacrosse championship with a 14-10 win over the sixth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Koskinen Stadium on Sunday.
It was a critical game for the defending national champions as a loss would have dropped them from NCAA postseason eligibility.
As a result, the Tar Heels (8-7) pounced on the Irish defense early and established an early lead that they never relinquished throughout.
Luke Goldstock led UNC’s offense with four goals, while Chris Cloutier’s hat trick and two from William Perry supported the effort.
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With scoring from eight different players, goalkeeper Brian Balkam did his part and made 11 saves to help earn the win.
It was an all-around team effort according to Cloutier.
“We had to do this or this would be it for us,” he said.
“We wanted to keep this going. It’s a lot easier to play when it’s your last game, if you lose. It’s motivation. That pushes us to want more time with our brothers and that’s what pushes us forward.”
Though the Tar Heels maintained the lead throughout the game, a hat trick from Brendan Gleason and two goals from Bryan Costabile kept the Notre Dame offense moving, as did a 12-save finish from goalkeeper Shane Doss.
It just wasn’t enough compared to what North Carolina put out.
“I asked the guys for two hours of everything you have, and when your number’s called, be ready to get out there and play,” UNC coach Joe Breschi said.
The Tar Heels took an early 3-0 lead and carried a 7-3 advantage at halftime.
A defensive lapse allowed the Irish to post three straight goals in the third led by the efforts of Costabile, Gleason, and Pierre Byrne.
An explosive three-goal surge early in the fourth period put Carolina ahead by five, leading 11-6 with 12:01 to play.
Though the Irish scored four times, Goldstock’s four goals all came in the final period and helped seal the win for the Tar Heels.
“The guys just kept attacking,” Breschi said.
“We weren’t gonna sit on our laurels. We were just gonna continue to attack. Really proud of how we handled ourselves defensively and Coach Metz (David Metzbower) had a great plan offensively, and we put some points on the board which is tough to do against a defense like that.”
With the win, North Carolina will await to take the next step on their journey back to the NCAA Tournament.
“A lot of guys are steppin’ up at the right time,” Breschi concluded. “We needed it. We knew our backs were against the wall. That’s 18-22 year-olds coming out there and understanding that their season will end if you lose. We talked about a 64-team tournament. To gain or achieve some of your goals, an ACC championship and NCAA championship, you had to win six straight. We won two and won the ACC championship. Now we’ll kinda wait and see.”